29 April 2011

Acts of Kindness

"How beautiful a day can be
When kindness touches it!"
~George Elliston

This week has seemed unusually long and stressful.  We've had altered schedules and standardized testing, after school meetings and staff development, and a looming deadline for progress report grades.  On top of all that, our state is in an educational budget crisis--so bleak that the teacher's association has declared a "state of emergency" and teachers across California are planning to rally at the capitol in the coming weeks. 

Even I, the eternal optimist, was near tears (and then actually in tears) several times this week. I was overwhelmed, overworked, and bombarded with negativity.  Huge stacks of ungraded papers taunted me.  Sleep eluded me.  Rational thought abandoned me. 

So how does one cope with the downward spiral of stress?  The answer: with kindness and gratitude. 

Even the smallest act of kindness--like making eye contact and smiling at someone, opening a door, or allowing another person to merge in front of you in traffic--can have positive psychological and physical effects.  Serotonin levels increase, immune systems strengthen, and stress is tempered.  And certainly we've all heard of the benefits of paying it forward. There's no end to the good that can come from simple acts of kindness. 

In fact, my dispositon was greatly improved today thanks to just a few wonderful and kind people: the student who left a flower on my desk, my 4th period class who organized some pre-birthday singing and cake (they won't see me on my actual birthday this weekend), an encouraging word from a colleague, and a phone call from my dearest friend and her 3 year old son, who sweetly professed that he loves "Aunt Ni-ni." I find myself filled with gratitude for these small, but sincere deeds and hope that I can someday return the favor.  I know I will sleep better tonight knowing that I've taken the time to smile today, to be thankful for kindnesses received, and anticipatory of kindnesses rendered. 

Sweet dreams,

Today's Gratitude List:
  • all of the above +
  • my sweatheart's cooking
  • random skyping with my family

Link to Maxabella Loves...BlogHop

27 April 2011

My Sci-Fi Confession

 The year was 1982. The first CD player appeared on the market in Japan, Disney opened its futuristic park EPCOT (Experimental Community of Tomorrow) in Florida, and Time’s “Man of the Year” was declared THE COMPUTER.

The world was changing. 
I was six years old and something magical was about to happen.
 My parents decided to take me to see my first motion picture—in the real theater, where the grownups go.
 I was beyond excited.  I sat, little legs dangling off that intimidating folding theater seat, between my parents, occasionally reaching out to touch one or the other’s arm, just to make sure they were still there next to me in the dark.  The screen was huge, the music was loud, and the popcorn was delicious. 
The film: Steven Spielberg’s E.T.   

I’d like to say that I behaved myself during the film, that I kept my composure and made Big Girls everywhere proud of the title. I’d like to, but I can’t.  The truth is that I cried throughout the entire movie: first because the alien frightened me, then because he was dying, and finally because he was going home and I was sad.  It was real to me—I was there with Elliot, Gertie, and Michael and I formed a bond of friendship with that sweet, but strange looking, creature from another world.
It was my first sci-fi experience and I was hooked.
My love of Sci-Fi never wavered, though I kept it a secret for many years.  As a child, I eagerly tuned-in to watch 3-2-1 Contact after school and to solve those oh-so-intriguing science mysteries with The Bloodhound Gang. 

I was mesmerized by the fictional universe of movies like Star Wars (who wasn’t?) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (another Spielberg masterpiece).  And I fondly remember curling up with my dad on the couch every week to watch the latest episode of Robin Williams’ quirky sitcom Mork & Mindy.  “Na-Nu, Na-Nu.”
My teen years introduced me to Star Trek: The Next Generation (I still have a crush on Patrick Stewart, by the way) and later, the long running series The X-Files. I simply couldn’t get enough.  If there was an alien, a faraway galaxy, or a paranormal turn of events—I was there. 
As an adult, shows like Stargate (any of them) and Battlestar Galactica keep me absolutely riveted—even the reruns. From Eureka, Sanctuary, and Fringe to Independence Day, The Matrix, and Inception—I am a Fan-girl and I’m proud of it.  No longer will I hide my love behind closely drawn curtains or in shadowy theaters.  This is my declaration for all the world to see: I LOVE SCI-FI and I’m not ashamed!  Laugh at me if you will, mock me, call me a nerd.  I embrace it.  And if you ask me to give it up?  Well, “I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Boldly going where...well, you know,


Today's Gratitude List
  • shoulders to cry on
  • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Ray Bradbury
  • a sunny day

23 April 2011

A Morning at the Market

April 22nd was a busy day.  In addition to being Good Friday, Passover, and actor Jack Nicholson's 74th birthday (congrats, man), yesterday was also recognized around the world as International Mother Earth Day, or just Earth Day as we like to call it here in the States.

Internet sites, radio stations, television news channels, and print newspapers offered myriad suggestions on how to honor Mother Earth, reminding us all that Earth Day should be every day and every day should be "green."

Here's my confession: I'm not nearly as green as I should be. Oh, I cover some of the basics: I recycle every week (as do most Californians), I take shorter showers, I try to buy locally, I have numerous reusable shopping bags, and I reuse any plastic or paper bags I'm given.  But that's about it.  I know I could, and should, be doing more.

During my lunch break I did some figurative gumshoeing to learn how I could become a more pro-active global citizen. The advice was varied, everything from calculating your carbon footprint and designing an invention to eating bugs and powering your blender with a bicycle.

Okay...  How about some things I can realistically do right now? 

Here's a few things that sounded do-able (and reasonable):
1.  Grow a window-box herb garden -- Since I  can't plant a tree or a real garden (we live in a condo with shared, albeit well manicured, grounds), this sounds like a nice compromise.  Plus, who doesn't enjoy fresh herbs?

2.  Install a bird feeder.  Did you know bird watching reduces stress?  Sign me up!

3.  Shop at thrift stores for gently used clothing--I can shop AND save the environment?  Sweet!

4.  Replace all lightbulbs with Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent lightbulbs - uses 75% less energy than traditional bulbs!

5.  Eat local food--checking out local farmer's markets is a great first step. (And when you can't buy locally, make sure to buy fair-trade certified items as often as possible.)

To that end, my first "green" activity of the spring was to investigate the Aptos Farmer's Market this morning.  I'm completely bewildered and ashamed that I wasn't aware of this tantalizing event sooner.  Every Saturday, from 8:00 to 12:00, roughly 80 vendors display their wares at Cabrillo College.  Of course, I was immediately drawn to the flowers (which were AMAZING), but there was also a bountiful assortment of fresh produce, nuts, speciality oils and condiments, home baked goods, gourmet coffee, cured meats--there was even an organic sauerkraut vendor! Throw in a little Bluegrass music and a lot of happy people, and the experience is complete. I have a feeling this has become my new Saturday morning "thing."  I truly cannot wait to go back.  

In the meantime, check out some of the photos I managed to take (when I wasn't sampling the food or swaying to the music).  And, if you live in the area or are planning to visit, see this site for more information about the Aptos Farmer's Market.  Really, going green never felt so fun!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Today's Gratitude List:
  • New experiences and new faces
  • Music
  • Molly's kisses

20 April 2011

Lemons into Lemonade

Optimism requires practice (and sometimes patience) to maintain.  It is no less important to overall wellness than any other aspect of one's health.  While your anatomical muscles extend and contract to support the posture of your body, optimism is the mental muscle that shores up your psychological well being.  And, just as a muscle needs to be strengthened, toned, and utilized regularly, optimism needs to be frequently flexed for optimum results.

Which brings me to today.

Wednesday began like any other day...

6:00 a.m.   Molly Kittenclaws informs me that it is time for breakfast so I pajama shuffle, one eye closed, down the stairs to the kitchen. 

6:15 a.m.    Coffee in hand, first sip taken, I head back up the stairs for primping and preparation.

7:00 a.m.   I head to work. 

8:00 a.m.  Class begins, but I have prep this morning (yay!) so I commence with grading a million essays.  My pen runs out of ink.  I tell myself I really need to stop writing so much feedback on these papers, but then get a new pen and continue, business as usual.

10: 24 a.m.  I am interrupted by an administrator during second period.  It seems the school has received an anonymous bomb threat and will need to evacuate before lunch (the time of the supposed bombing).  No alarms are rung.  No one panics.  Law enforcement is on the scene and the staff is given instructions. Students are quietly escorted down the halls, to the sidewalk, and across the street.  An autodialer begins calling parents and a district representative prepares a statement. 

11: 00 a.m.  The campus is eerily empty.  It's the most efficient evacuation I've ever seen.

11:15 a.m.  The faculty is de-briefed and told to go home.  Bomb-sniffing dogs are brought in and law enforcement takes over.  Our school is closed for the rest of the day.

11: 30 a.m   I call my dearest friend to vent.  "What are you going to do with your free afternoon?" she asks.  I really have no idea.  The adrenalin hasn't worn off yet and I feel agitated.  I wasn't expecting a short day. I had stuff to do!  What about my agenda?  And those essays I have to finish?  I didn't even get to eat my lunch!

Hmmm...lunch.  A thought occurs to me.  I remember my own advice about practicing positivity and call up my sweetheart for a lunch date.  We rarely ever get to do this.  It might just be fun.

12:45 p.m.  The Big Guy and I share an ocean view and some margaritas while we wait for our lunch. 

2:00 p.m.   I normally wouldn't even be home yet.  The combination of my margarita and "coming down" from the earlier adrenalin rush hits me.  I'm sleepy.  Dare I entertain the notion? A nap on a Wednesday--is it possible?  Why yes, it is!  I crawl into bed and  drift off ...Lemons, lemonade...I think I'll blog about this later.

3:00 p.m.  I still wouldn't be home quite yet.  I run to the grocery store and get a few errands done.  I feel so...delighted.  It's been a most excellent afternoon.  An impossible afternoon. 

Only a few hours before I was fraught with worry. I was annoyed and anxious--my day was ruined.  But then my angel-of-a-friend asked me what I was going to do and I realized I had a choice.  

What I did was take a sour lemon of a Wednesday, an unfortunate and frustrating occurrence, and I squeezed the ever-loving pulp out of it.  The essays could wait.   My agenda could be accomplished some other time.  My day wasn't ruined--in fact, it was lovely.  I spent some time with the man I love, had a delicious lunch and an adult beverage, and took a much-needed nap.  I made the choice to sugar up those sour lemons and I flexed that optimism muscle until I made some damn fine lemonade. 

It isn't possible to be cheery all the time (believe me, I know), but seeing the glass half full more often than you see it half empty isn't a bad way to live life.  There will always be plenty of lemons to go around--but the lemonade? The lemonade is entirely up to us.

Until next time,

16 April 2011

Adventures in Eating

Sunflower readers beware:  this will be a completely hedonistic posting about...FOOD.  You might want to put on your stretchy pants and grab something yummy. 

I'm not the first person to fall in love with flavor.  Just look at the ever growing number of television shows, websites, and stores dedicated to the art of cuisine and the pursuit of culinary bliss. Even J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that "if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, the world would be a merrier place."  Well, according to my pampered palate, the world is a merry place indeed. 

My latest discovery (are you ready for THIS?)....chocolate covered bacon! Oh yes.

Introducing Mo's Bacon Bar from Vosges Haut Chocolat.  We discovered this taste sensation at a local wine bar.  Paired with a Paso Robles zinfandel, I was officially infatuated!  Wowza!

Remember that scene from Ratatouille when the Parisian chef, with one spoonful of those succulent Mediterranean vegetables, was instantly transported to his tender childhood? 

That's what good food does.  It transports.  To the past, to the future, to a place of rapturous euphoria. 

At least, that's what it does for me.

Fortunately, I live in an area with abundant edible options.  And while we dine-in far more than we ever dine-out (for my waist-line and my budget), my taste buds have remembered and relished in their flavorful feats.  Here is a (short) list of some of my favorite foodie establishments (within a day's drive):

Morning Glory Restaurant
Ashland, OR
Favorite Item: Lemon ricotta stuffed French toast with raspberry syrup and a giant mug of coffee.  This place is a MUST whenever we are cruising through Oregon.

900 Grayson
Berkeley, CA
Favorite Item: The Demon Lover
-Spicy buttermilk fried Fulton Valley chicken Paillard, buttermilk waffle, and old-fashioned cream gravy. Oh. My. God. 

Christian Michael's Ristorante
Chico, CA
Favorite Item: the asparagus risotto or seared ahi tuna salad
-The bar is relaxed and well-stocked and they have an excellent happy hour menu too!

The Raw Bar
Chico, CA
Favorite Item: anything sushi! 
-I especially enjoy their selection of sakitinis, including the Gingertini and the Thai Lemon Drop.  Saki-to-me!

Palapas Restaurant and Cantina
Aptos, CA
Favorite Item: Tierra y Mar
-a combination of charboiled skirt steak and sauteed chipotle prawns, served with rice, beans, and handmade corn tortillas

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Favorite Item: Oysters Rockefeller
-The incredible menu is seasonal and changes daily.  The also have one of the finest wine lists I've ever seen, and if you aren't quite sure what to order, the sommelier will gladly assist you.  A truly romantic spot in the heart of Carmel.

Big Sur, CA
Favorite Item: The Famous Ambrosia Burger
-a ground steak sandwich, served on a French roll with their secret ambrosia sauce.  Really, people come here for the breathtaking coastal views, but the food is a tasty bonus!

So, who's hungry? (I did try to warn you.)  It's okay, a little hunger is good for the soul.  And it IS acceptable to indulge every once in awhile.  What is life without a bit of  joy now and then?  After all, it's a rather long journey "to there and back again." Better pack a chocolate covered bacon bar, just in case.

Bon Appetite!

Today's Gratitude List:
  • progress made on the stack of papers I brought home to grade (despite Molly's attempts to steal my paperclips and gnaw on the Oedipus essays)
  • a morning full of sunshine-perfect for my stroll through the neighborhood
  • a mostly healthy body image
  • re-runs of Stargate (Yes, I'm a secret sci-fi junkie!)

13 April 2011

An April Pilgrimage

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called England, Chaucer and his lively Canterbury pilgrims viewed April as the ideal month for an excursion.  Here we are, roughly 600 years later, and not too much has changed.  I fall victim, albeit willingly, to that wanderlust every April, as do many of my friends and colleagues.  Is it, as Chaucer claims, the fragrant new blooms, the sweet spring winds, the fond return of our feathered migratory friends? 


Of course, it could also be that glorious week of vacation I like to call Spring Break.  A week off of work + sunshine after a looooong month of rain = well, you get the picture.

In recent years I have spent this coveted week engaged in various leisurely pursuits- camping in the redwoods,

a visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,

a pilgrimage to my beloved alma mater.

Lately, however, due to economics and conflicting household schedules, I have become a fan of the hybrid model: half vacation, half stay-cation.  Three days elsewhere, four days home.  It’s perfect.  My urge to adventure out is satiated and I still have time to putter around the house, attend to some procrastinated projects and chores, and participate in some good old-fashioned lounge time.  Ah, if only I had some bon-bons and a chaise…

This year, I headed north to visit family and friends in rural California. My four hour drive consisted of pastoral vistas, rolling hills, orchards, farms, and fields as far as the eye could see.  Northern California is an agricultural mecca- a fact I didn’t appreciate whilst living there during my years as an incorrigible teen.  Now, even as a beach town aficionado, I can understand the allure of country life.  No where else is the cycle of time more apparent. The seasons change visibly in the country—you can practically watch the sweet alfalfa sprout, see the silver flashes of steelhead trout in the Feather River, and witness the grand unfurling of almond blossoms in the Sacramento valley.  The rituals of spring are celebrated in every rustic nook and cranny, by every creature – great and small.

And me? A glass of wine with my dearest friend, my dad barbecuing ribs, mom admonishing my lack of a sweater—these were my celebrations, my homage to April this year.  Okay, so it wasn’t a pious journey to honor Thomas a’ Becket or a quest for a votive purpose of any sort, but it was sentimental, soothing, and maybe even a little uplifting. I’m sure even Chaucer would agree – it was a trip well worth taking.


Today's Gratitude List:
  • waking up in my own bed
  • projects that keep me busy
  • afternoon naps
  • sea scallops sauteed in butter and garlic
  • the heady perfume of lilacs

11 April 2011

A Kingdom by the Sea

Greetings! The long awaited Spring Break has finally arrived and my sweatheart and I kicked it off in true style!  Here are some pictures from our stay at a nearby resort.  Enjoy!

Beautiful Views

Coastal Plantlife

View from our Room

Romantic Sunset

This was such a treat--a much needed break from the everyday hustle and bustle.  It's amazing how even just one night away can be so restorative.  I don't even need to make a gratitude list this time--the pictures say it all! 


07 April 2011

Elephants and Other Things

Today, in a much needed literary nepenthe, I stumbled across an old Indian parable (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) about an elephant and some sightless men.  It is an old tale indeed, begetting many versions and many more interpretations, but the basic story goes something like this:

A group of blind men were shown an elephant and asked to identify it.  They touched it with their hands to determine what the creature was.  One man felt the trunk and claimed that an elephant was like a snake. Another touched its leg and claimed that an elephant must be like a tree.  A third man touched its tail and claimed that the elephant was like a slender rope…
All of them were right.  And all of them were wrong. 
Now, the original intent of this allegorical gem may simply have been to acknowledge the validity and existence of multiple truths or even to promote harmony among people with different belief systems.  But for me, the parable serves as a reminder that we each approach this world, our “elephant” as it were, with a different frame of reference, a unique set of assumptions, standards, and experiences that navigates our thinking, influences our perceptions, and inspires our reactions. Upbringing, family, birthplace, educational experience…it all matters.  My frame of reference paints the BIG PICTURE of what it means to be a human being and what it means, essentially, to be Me.

Teachers are especially aware of this concept.  Late in August, every year, I am greeted with 150 new students, shiny faces looking to me (good gracious!) for wisdom and guidance. What a remarkable challenge! How can I possibly lead them somewhere new if I don’t first know where they have been?

One of the greatest get-to-know-you activities I’ve seen teachers use is the “Me Box” assignment.  On the first day of school, the teacher brings in a shoe box filled with items and pictures that represent her. She shares these with the students and explains why each item is important or significant. The students are then assigned to bring their own “Me Box” to school the next day and the items are shared as part of a class discussion to help facilitate compassion for and understanding of each other’s frames of reference. 

What would you put in yours?

I am a woman.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am a lover.
I am a friend.
I am a teacher.
I am 34 years old.
I am 5’4” tall.
I am blonde.
I am Caucasian.
I am American.
I am Californian.
I am college educated.
I am middle class.
Such are the ingredients in my reference recipe.  The list goes on and on-- each element like an epidermal ridge of the fingerprint that is me.  Remove any one of them and I would not be the same person, my frame would undoubtedly alter.

Someone once said that “because life is short, it’s wise to make it broad.”  I believe this to be true.  If we are lucky we will meet many people from many walks of life.  They will each have a perception of the world, a point of view, a mindset, a frame of reference…a different part of the elephant.

All of them are right.  And all of them are wrong.  And it's all okay!
And isn’t that the big picture, after all?

Many Smiles,

Today's Gratitude List:
  • the homedics foot spa for my much-abused feet
  • my sweetheart who picked up Chinese food on his way home
  • my colleague Sharon, who saved my agenda (and my sanity) today
  • a cozy house and cuddly cat
  • the promise of Friday and a week of Spring Break!
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